The Ecphorizer

Reflections in a Dubious Eye #5
Polly Pitkin Ryan

Issue #08 (April 1982)


According to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the universe is undergoing a process of diffusion. Concentrations of energy and mass are deconcentrated by every known physical process, and energy becomes less and less available. This unavailability of energy is referred to as entropy. No reverse process is mathematically probable, so entropy is always increasing, and we are assured that the universe is heading inexorably toward an ultimate heat death, where matter is evenly dispersed, temperatures are uniform, and no movement is possible.

However, on an astronomical scale, that it not what we see. Masses in space tend to accumulate by the attraction of gravity. Clouds of gas and dust collect in clumps and the clumps attract each other into lumps, becoming stars and planets. These lumps of mass sweep through more clouds of dust and gas in space, collecting more mass as they go - the opposite of dispersion. Each [quoteright'/>clump is heading toward a state where its mass is so concentrated that the escape velocity from its gravitational field exceeds the speed of light, and no mass, no light, nor any other form of electromagnetic energy can escape. Then it becomes the famous black hole. As more and more black holes wander through space, swallowing each other, the universe is heading inexorably toward a single Ultimate Black Hole - a Cosmic Egg. So where does that leave the Second Law?

If only I were a great mathematician, I would work out a mathematical proof that gravity is really negative entropy, and that black holes illustrate a new Third Law of Thermodynamics. The Fourth Law, of course, would explain why such a concentration of negative entropy is unstable, and that the universe is heading inexorably toward another Big Bang. If only I could produce the right kind of equations, everybody who is anybody would nod wisely and say "of course, of course." If I published first, I'd become famous and probably win a Nobel prize. Alas, what the world lost when I got a "D" in arithmetic in grade school! Sigh.  

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Polly Pitkin Ryan




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Shifty Words

Issue #08 (April 1982)

Dr Ernest Brennecke of Columbia University has constructed a sentence that takes on eight different meanings when one word is shifted to its eight possible positions:

Only I hit him in the eye yesterday.
I only hit him in the eye yesterday.
I hit only him in the eye yesterday.
I hit him only in the eye yesterday.
I hit him in only the eye yesterday.
I hit him in the only eye yesterday.
I hit him in the eye only yesterday.
I hit him in the eye yesterday only.

Can any of our readers come up with a sentence of entirely different structure that has this curious property? 

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Polly Pitkin Ryan




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